There is much consternation about The Herald withdrawing an education article part way through the day this week and refusing to respond to questions about why that was.
So why was it withdrawn, we wondered? Political pressure? Who knew?
With no real explanation, suddenly, the next day, there was a pathetic (and badly written) “clarification’ in the Herald”
But even that doesn’t say the facts were wrong. Just the intference.
And yet reading the released OIA documents, I feel most people with decent reading skills would infer the same.
But don’t take my word for it, take a look at these excerpts (or better still, read the whole OIA request here) and judge for yourselves:
and more ‘war room’ talk…
It seems to be a lot of back and forth and a lot of people involved for something the Ministry is now saying wasn’t an issue, doesn’t it?
It is worth noting that all of this toing and froing includes a whole lot of media staff and not so many education staff. You’d think sharing the undiluted, unspun truth would be better all round …
So was there undue influence or not?
And just how much spin does it take before the spin become untruths?
Education Minister Hekia Parata has issued the Trust running Te Pumanawa o te Wairua School with a performance notice requiring it to take immediate action to address areas of serious concern at the school.
Ms Parata met with the Ngā Parirau Mātauranga Charitable Trust today to lay out her concerns about ongoing issues identified by the Education Review Office (ERO) and the Ministry of Education. The Trust is the sponsor for the school at Whangaruru.
“I have become increasingly concerned at the cumulative failures in performance that have seen declining numbers of kids enrolled, sporadic school attendance and the knock-on effect on educational performance.
“The Ministry has worked extensively with the Trust over the past year to address the issues raised, but ERO has found that it would not be able to operate effectively without further substantial support.”
Ms Parata says she is aware of the challenges faced by the school. “A number of these students have been out of the education system for some time. However, these challenges were known by the Trust when they made their proposal and later signed the contract to run the school.
“The Ministry has provided support and advice over many months to the sponsor in a number of areas, including governance, management and operational matters.
“There were some improvements at the school last year, particularly when it was under an interim Chief Executive, but they were not sustained after the interim CE left the school.”
Ms Parata says the Trust has put forward a remedial plan, but she is not confident that it is sufficient to make the difference required.
“Therefore, under the agreement, I have issued a performance notice. This sets out exactly what the performance failures are and what must be done to address them.”
She says a Specialist Audit will be conducted at the school in a month’s time to assess progress.
“I intend to use the findings of the Specialist Audit to assist my overall judgement as to whether the failings identified are capable of being rectified.
“Partnership schools are giving many kids who’ve faced considerable difficulties in their lives the chance to get engaged in education again. But it is our duty to ensure they do actually receive the quality of education they need to open the doors of further promise in their lives.”
Ms Parata says she is not predetermining the outcome of the process.
“The issuing of a performance notice is a step in the process to both protect the rights of these students to get a better education while protecting the use of taxpayers’ funding.”
As we have seen before, the release of such information, often requested under the Official Information Act, was incomplete and continues to make a mockery both of the OIA itself and the rhetoric that processes relating to charter school will be transparent and subject to scrutiny.
On 12 June 2014 I lodged an application under the OIA for the “Readiness Reviews” conducted by the Education Review Office of the five new schools which opened in February 2014.
A Readiness Review, as its name implies, is supposed to be ERO’s view of the state of a new school’s preparedness to open its doors to students.
At the completion of the normal 20 working days OIA time limit, the Ministry of Education wrote and stated that the Readiness Reviews of four of the schools were “soon” to be made publicly available and so my request was refused on those grounds. They also made this statement about the fifth
“The Readiness report for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru has not been completed. Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru has faced a number of challenges, as schools often do when they first open. All of the identified challenges have now been overcome or are being managed. For this reason, the Ministry and ERO have agreed that the review period be extended until the end of August 2014 with a final report in September 2014. Extending the review period allows a fair and reasonable opportunity for the Sponsor to address the issues and demonstrate its capability to operate a successful school.
The report for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru is not expected to be released until the end of September 2014”
Letter from MoE, dated 14 July 2014
Subsequently, on 6 August 2014, the Ministry released to me the four completed readiness reviews for the other schools.
After a wait of over 3 months, the Ministry finally contacted me again:
“The ERO Readiness Review for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru is not included in today’s release. We are withholding this document in full under section 9(2)(f)(iv) of the Act to allow time for some issues to be addressed. The school is in the process of responding to the delayed review. Once it has done that, the report will be released.”
e-mail from MoE, dated 20 November 2014
In my view, there are several unanswered questions that come to mind when this saga is analysed.
1. A Readiness Review should show clearly whether, or not, a new school is “ready” to open. If Whangaruru was not “ready” then why was it allowed to open?
2. Why did an Education Report to the Minister from the Ministry, dated 28 January 2014, clearly state that: “Overall, all sponsors are committed and well placed to opening their schools at the start of Term 1, 2014.”?
3. What “challenges” and “issues” were subsequently identified by ERO?
4. Have these issues impacted on the ability of the school to deliver a sound education to the students enrolled at the school?
5. What support has the Ministry of Education had to provide to the school to enable it to continue operating?
6. What has been the cost of this additional support?
7. If the 14 July communication stated that “all of the identified challenges have now been overcome or are being managed” then why has this process not been brought to a conclusion? What issues still need to be addressed, as per the 20 November statement?
8. Why did the Partnership Schools Authorisation Board, chaired by former ACT Party President, Catherine Isaac, authorise Whangaruru in the first place? What did the Authorisation Board see in its application that led them to believe that Whangaruru would be a viable school?
9. If the Whangaruru school collapses, what happens to ownership of the farm property where the school is based?
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
“Not all teachers and students deserve prizes but they do deserve self-esteem, opportunity and fulfilment and moreover fair treatment.
A prerequisite of this is a properly funded education system which genuinely seeks to meet need and does not penalise and denigrate students simply for starting the educational process with very little, and denigrating and punishing staff for having to work harder and more effectively in these contexts than in any other.”
A recent UK report, Supporting Outstanding Pupil Progress In Schools In An Area Of Social and Economic Deprivation, looked at a schools in disadvantaged areas to analyse what behaviours make an “outstanding” teacher, contributing to outstanding student progress. The report speaks to questions asked by and of educators worldwide, and is as pertinent to our own situation in New Zealand as it is in England.
The report’s findings will not surprise most teachers, citing social and economic deprivation as a major factors in students’ chances of success. Neither will it surprise many (any?) teachers that they are often expected to act as surrogate parents for those without support and stability in their home lives.
Professor Bridget Cooper, Director of the Centre for Pedagogy at the University of Sunderland, UK, who led the report, says: “It is obvious from this report that schools in socially and economically deprived areas need more generous and more appropriate funding. Those in power need to understand and take into account the effort teachers in those schools have to make to counteract the multiplicity of needs of their students for their entire school lives.”
“It is completely unfair and irrelevant to compare these schools, teachers and children throughout their academic life unfavourably with schools which do not have to meet such great need as the teachers have work even harder.”
The Danger of an Overbearing Review Office
The report also looks at the role of OFSTED, which is the UK equivalent of ERO, and raises concerns that reviews are often barriers to good teaching practice, being so very prescriptive that teachers find it hard to harness their own creativity and create engaging learning for students.
Whilst in Aotearoa differentiation and personalised teaching is still, quite rightly, seen as good pedagogy even by the review office, the report found in England OFSTED insisted on “having objectives at the start of the lesson which does not always work with each student”. It went on to say that “[s]everal staff said that always having the objectives at the start of the lesson goes against ideas of discovery and student-centred learning (both secondary and primary) and can make lessons dull and mechanical.”
Far from allowing teachers to do what they know works or to experiment with new resources and pedagogy in order to engage students and inspire them, “teachers are constrained by the structure of the school day and the push for conformity is hindering progress in “deprived” schools.”
Of course, things are made even worse when you consider that in England teachers are subject to performance pay. This means that there is pressure to jump through whatever hoops OFSTED deems important, as your wages depend on it. It doesn’t mean teaching better or responding to students’ needs more appropriately, though.
And there’s the rub.
There have been many potential such cases but this is the one that has come through; the one that has stayed the perverted course –because Marlene Campbell has shown the courage of a lion not to fold. Might I say, I don’t criticise those who did. The pressure to do so has been close to unendurable.
Let me say loud and clear the case against Marlene Campbell is a put-up job, has been engineered, opportunistically taken advantage of in an attempt to crush an outspoken educationist and to put fear into the system.
The general public and the media have been unable to truly grasp what has been going on in education.
Even in education itself there are those who won’t link the dots. They recognise that particular acts of political and bureaucratic bullying and bad faith are occurring, but won’t link them together to recognise that this government in education has been autocratic, anti-democratic, bullying, persistent in lying and distorting, and reliant on fear and propaganda to hold sway. They won’t conceptualise because to do so would challenge them to some kind of action, pose some kind of moral dilemma.
New Zealanders are loath to believe that an agency of state and its political leaders are not acting in good faith – especially in something so precious as education. They have not grasped, are finding it difficult to believe, that in the five years of the National government, terrible things have occurred.
In the advent of a change of government, there needs to be the equivalent of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to heal the past and allow bureaucrats and others to come forward to present some of the terrible things they have been instructed or pressured to do.
Let us see how this works out in the political and bureaucratic persecution of Marlene Campbell.
One important idea to hold onto throughout is that if Marlene has been at fault in any way, that fault has been largely manufactured, in that if it occurred at a school in any other circumstances, it would not cause a blip. In other words, the bureaucracies have gone on a fishing expedition with Marlene Campbell – but pulled in nothing of significance. Yet the financial cost to Marlene Campbell, the children at the school has been hundreds of thousands, then there has been the devastating distraction to the tenor of the school – also the cost to the taxpayer.
I don’t want to get submerged in detail so I’m going to concentrate on key junctures.
Perhaps I should add one more observation before I begin: what sort of principal is Marlene Campbell? Well, how can I say this? She is very modern. You would expect the ministry to be delighted with this, it’s all there knobs and all. Marlene Campbell is clearly willing to listen to policy directions, but just as clearly she wants to do it with a sense of free will –that seems to have been at the centre of why she has been so outspoken – she’s a modern Southern woman who won’t be pushed around. She’s a strong individual.
Key juncture one
In June, 2012, the school’s regular ERO visit took place. On the second day Marlene Campbell was told that ERO intended to use the review to investigate anonymous complaints that had been made against her. Marlene Campbell asked for details so she could respond but was refused them; she was steamrolled, the matter was then simply reported to the ministry recommending an investigation.
Predetermination laid bare,
This was a put-up job. The matter was really a carry-on from the Ann Tolley regime. Hekia Parata and the ERO and ministry bureaucrats, though, proved only too willing to continue this terrible thing.
The moment the Marlene Campbell complaint letter arrived at the ERO, the opportunity was seized by the bureaucracies as manna from heaven – and the dye was cast; the letter was quickly passed onto the ministry, being well practised in what to do.
ERO made no judgements as to the merits of the complaint because that might well have contaminated it with the odd fact or two; the intention, I suggest, being to keep the complaint free of detail so the ministry could provide its own, to be magnified beyond belief, mountained to a molehill, imaginatively reconfigured.
How on earth could anyone respond sensibly to an anonymous complaint, by definition absent of context, expressed in general terms?
This is unconscionable.
Key juncture two
Peter McDonald was appointed limited statutory manager. He did two things.
First, he announced almost immediately and without consultation that the only way to solve the matter was for Marlene Campbell to leave. Just like that.
Predetermination laid bare.
Of course, Marlene Campbell refused.
Secondly, a teacher at the school who had, following due process, been demoted by the board of trustees with the agreement of NZEI, was reappointed to a senior position. Just like that.
Are you flabbergasted?
Then, amazing goings-on for a year and a half.
Key juncture three
McDonald in the year and a half that followed, in sinister mode, tried to find fault in Marlene Campbell’s behaviour; find facts, as I see it, to fit a pre-determined judgement – but failed.
The chairperson of the board of trustees and the board then became totally exasperated at the cost and terribleness of the situation so, to force the ministry’s hand, resigned. In doing this, the chairperson reiterated his utmost confidence in Marlene Campbell, declaring her a most wonderful and exceptional principal.
McDonald seems to have panicked. Out of the blue, he accused Marlene Campbell of a specific instance of bullying. (This was, of course, later utterly disproved.)
He put her on leave.
Four days later his term as LSM ended, to be replaced by a commissioner.
Key juncture four
The appointment of commissioner was the signal for frantic efforts to dig the ministry out of the hole it had dug itself into. That hole, however, only became a concern to the ministry when Marlene Campbell didn’t capitulate.
The commissioner said she would finish the investigatory process before the start of the school year. She failed to do so.
Marlene Campbell was dismissed on March 6, 2014.
This is all so terrible and unjust that it is difficult to take in. So gross have been the actions that some actions also serious, but to a lesser degree, can gain an element of acceptance, which they shouldn’t.
Throughout the one and a half years, the bureaucrats have, almost without exception, refused to provide details of allegations – particularly unreasonable given that on the very few occasions when they have been provided, they were proved to be nonsense. The only charges remaining are unsubstantiated generalisations.
Significantly, in her final report, the commissioner pulled back from some of the allegations previously offered as the reasons for Marlene Campbell’s suspension and made some attempts to correct gross procedural errors.
The ministry case, by these very actions, lies in shreds.
Clearly, the delay in presenting the final report involved a going to and fro about how the report could backtrack without making the LSM, the ministry, and the commissioner look complete idiots. The final report failed, because they do.
Think of the harm all this has done to the fabric of education, indeed, New Zealand society – the tearing at the threads.
It is pure Kafkan in its terribleness – and it’s here in our little country.
The motive was malice; the process travesty; the outcome horrendous.
The politicians sat back, confident that no harm would come their way. Their plan had worked before, why not with this prime target? Send in ERO complete with anonymous letter murmuring mysteriously about matters needing investigation and then quickly hand over to the ministry to enable it to appoint a statutory manager who could proceed to take outrageous advantage of the assumption of good faith in authority. The process from there is well established: the principal muzzled; the statutory manager goes fault fishing; the principal’s position destabilised with occasional releases of information to various directions; the cost of the statutory manager is used to turn the school against the principal; time is prolonged in the hope that new elections would bring in anti-principal trustees; and, failing all that, wait for the huge legal cost to make the principal have to excruciatingly balance fighting for justice against welfare of his or her family.
But with Marlene Campbell things didn’t work out per usual. Hence the current situation. This dogged and brave principal deserves our help and support.
I accuse the ministers and ministry of ‘false accusation and misrepresentation of justice’ from ‘lurid obsession.’ An overstated analogy? I say given the New Zealand context it isn’t, and given the elements of injustice involved, worth pondering. Anyway, if you were Marlene Campbell would you be splitting hairs?
The government and the education bureaucracies have declared deep and unrelenting antipathy to the idea of public education. When is the penny going to drop?
When are we going to unite on enough is enough?
by Kelvin Smythe
If you wish to help Marlene fight this, please give to her legal fees fundraising here.
Read also: https://saveourschoolsnz.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/marlene-campbell-needs-our-urgent-support-by-kelvin-smythe/
This is reposted from Local Bodies, with the kind permission of the author, bsprout.
The Ministry of Education is tightening the National Standards net. Until now it was largely the comprehensive ERO reports that determined the performance or success of a school, now it is mostly about achievement levels in literacy and numeracy.
It was recently revealed that schools have been placed into three categories, those doing particularly well were to be called “no touch” schools, some were going to receive a “light touch” and the worst performing would need a “firm touch” from the Ministry. Principal Pat Newman caused some hilarity when he asked where the touching would happen and who would do it, and “what legal recourse will a touchee have if the touching doesn’t come up to expectations”.
In reality it is no joke, while the original titles for each group no longer exist, many Principals have discovered (around 800) that they meet the criteria for a firm touch. It became clear that practically all those notified were low decile schools. The key factor, despite all the other triggers listed (ERO reports and Charter compliance), it was the school’s National Standards achievement levels that were the main determining factor.
There is a high level of anger and outrage from the recipients of these damning notifications. One principal I know was particularly upset, her Decile 2 school is well regarded and recently received a good ERO report that places it in the normal 3 year cycle. The majority of the pupils in her school are Pasifika and the rest are Maori or recent migrants. For a large proportion English is their second language and some speak up to three languages. The school is a happy, vibrant place, the children are enthusiastic learners, the teachers highly dedicated, but it is unlikely that the literacy and the numeracy achievement targets set by the Minister will ever be reached.
The notifications in many cases have been delivered in an almost apologetic manner, but the message is clear, these narrow, ideological targets (based on ropey assessments) are determining what success looks like in our primary schools. According to this Government socio-economic factors have little bearing on teaching and learning and a child who speaks three languages (but none of them English) cannot be considered competent in literacy. By bulldozing through this highly ideological system we are creating winners and losers and the collateral damage will include many wonderful children and schools.
Thank you to bsprout for giving me permission to share. The original article is here.
Serious concerns are being voiced that government’s ever-increasing emphasis on National Standards is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum for students, with reading, writing and mathematics becoming the be-all and end-all, to the detriment of other subject areas.
This concern has grown with the news that ERO (the Education Review Office) will from this year explicitly use schools’ National Standards data and compare it with local and national averages in order to judge schools.
Principals argue that the move will lead to schools to “neglect science, the arts and other aspects of children’s development” as they become more concerned with how they fare on league tables than about quality, broad education.
There are concerns that it will lead to a focus on those students who are deemed to be just below the “at” level, with those who are “below”*, “well below”* or “above” standard losing out because they are either already over the “at” hurdle or are deemed to be too far away from it to reach in time for data collection.
There are also very valid concerns that the pressure of such a Big Brother system (especially if paired with performance pay as it has been elsewhere) could lead to either conscious or subconscious inflation of test results, as teachers and schools begin to work in fear.
The Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) project found that National Standards:
“…are having some favourable impacts in areas that include teacher understanding of curriculum levels, motivation of some teachers and children and some improved targeting of interventions. Nevertheless such gains are overshadowed by damage being done through the intensification of staff workloads, curriculum narrowing and the reinforcement of a two-tier curriculum, the positioning and labelling of children and unproductive new tensions amongst school staff.”
Those concerns are clearly not being taken seriously, and instead a new level of pressure is being layered on.
Of course ERO say there is nothing to worry about, as does Hekia Parata. But given this government’s repeated bullying of schools, failures to properly consult, and dishonesty about matters pertaining to education, it’s safe to say most teachers and parents will take that assertion with a large pinch of salt.
* (Note, “below standard” and “well below standard” are government’s terms, not mine. I find them incredibly distasteful.)